Falcons will play a 2014 game in London


NFL IN LONDON

In what it calls the “International Series,” the NFL has played regular-season games in London’s Wembley Stadium annually since 2007:

2013: Vikings 34, Steelers 27; Jaguars vs. 49ers on Oct. 27

2012: Patriots 45, Rams 7

2011: Bears 24, Buccaneers 18

2010: 49ers 24, Broncos 16

2009: Patriots 35, Buccaneers 7

2008: Saints 37, Chargers 32

2007: Giants 13, Dolphins 10

The Falcons will play a regular-season game in London for the first time next year as the NFL continues to expand its presence there.

After playing one regular-season game in London in each of the past six seasons and two this season, the NFL plans to play three there in 2014, the league said Tuesday. The Falcons, Jacksonville Jaguars and Oakland Raiders will be the “home” teams for next season’s games in Wembley Stadium. Dates and opponents will be set later this year.

“Our fans in the UK have continued to demonstrate that they love football and want more,” NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement.

As a precursor to the NFL announcement, the Georgia World Congress Center Authority board voted unanimously Tuesday morning to waive for 2014 a provision in the Falcons’ Georgia Dome lease that requires the team to play eight regular-season games in the Dome each season. The Falcons will be permitted to drop to seven regular-season games in the Dome next season to accommodate the London game.

As part of the deal, the NFL will make the Georgia Dome “financially whole” by paying it an amount equal to what the game would have generated for the facility in net revenue, GWCCA executive director Frank Poe said. The GWCCA, a state agency, operates the Dome.

“We believe that it’s a unique branding opportunity for the (GWCCA) as well as for the Falcons, state and city,” Poe said of the Falcons’ trip to London. Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal and Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, in separate statements, expressed their approval.

The trip will mark the first time in franchise history that the Falcons have played a regular-season game outside North America. (They will play their first regular-season game outside the U.S. on Dec. 1, when they face the Buffalo Bills in Toronto.) The Falcons played exhibition games in Tokyo in 2000 and 2005.

“We are excited and honored to serve as ambassadors for our city, our state and the (NFL),” Falcons owner Arthur Blank said. “Playing in London will provide tremendous exposure to our team, as well as provide the opportunity to showcase the great international city of Atlanta.”

The NFL’s most recent game in London — Minnesota’s 34-27 win over Pittsburgh on Sept. 29 — drew a capacity crowd of 83,518. This season’s second game in London, Jacksonville vs. San Francisco on Oct. 27, also has sold out. The Jaguars have committed to play one home game in London each season through 2016.

TV viewership of NFL games has almost doubled in the United Kingdom since the start of the league’s “International Series” games there in 2007, according to the league.

“By playing two games in the UK this year, we are creating more fans,” Goodell said. “We hope that with three games in London next year we will attract even more people to our game.”

Poe told the GWCCA board that issues such as how the loss of one Georgia Dome game affects season-ticket holders, suite holders and corporate sponsors will be “managed jointly with the Falcons as we approach the 2014 season.”

Also in Tuesday’s meeting, conducted by conference call, the GWCCA board voted unanimously to formally approve the purchase of Mount Vernon Baptist Church’s property on the site of the future Falcons stadium just south of the Georgia Dome. Out of a purchase price of $14.5 million, the GWCCA will pay $6.2 million — the property’s appraised value — and the Falcons will pay $8.3 million.